“… we have set ourselves the ambition to become a net zero company by 2050 or sooner and to help the world get to net zero…. We will need support from partners, investors, policy makers, customers – and trade associations…. (Bernard Looney, CEO, BP, 2020)
“BP’s $100-million annual investment in clean energy equals only about 1 percent of the company’s overall expenditures of $12.5 billion. While this positions the company to gain market share in a growing industry, it does little to reduce vulnerability to policies that reduce demand for carbon-intensive products.” (Seth Dunn and Christopher Flavin, 2002, p. 41)
BP is a fossil-fuel company with token investments in solar, wind, and biofuels. The new CEO, Bernard Looney, is taking the company back to the John Browne’s “beyond petroleum” days. As such, BP finds itself at war with itself while its critics cry “greenwashing.”
And all to market more petro in the EU, if not in the U.S., as a politically correct company.
“The two greatest enemies of free enterprise in the United States,” Milton Friedman once stated, “have been, on the one hand, my fellow intellectuals and, on the other hand, the business corporations of this country.”
John Browne and Bernard Looney are two prominent examples in the oil and gas industry. By choosing to try to appease their critics rather than take a principled, intellectual stand for the utility of their core products, BP cedes the moral high ground and invites ever more criticism from the foes of mineral energies and comfortable, modern living.
Greenwire’s February 26, 2020, article, “Climate Shift Spurs BP to Quit Trade Groups” by Timothy Cama, begins:
United Kingdom-based BP PLC is leaving three oil and natural gas advocacy associations, finding conflicts in climate change policy “that cannot be reconciled.”
The company is ending its memberships in three U.S. organizations: American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, the Western States Petroleum Association and the Western Energy Alliance, it announced today.
The decisions came weeks after BP, under new CEO Bernard Looney, announced a set of aggressive climate policies, including a goal to become carbon neutral by 2050 (Greenwire, Feb. 12).
“It’s hard to take BP’s hand-wringing about climate disagreements with smaller trade groups seriously when the company is still tied to the most dangerous climate deniers of them all…”
“BP clearly wants to be seen as moving in the right direction on climate, but as long as they’re still looking to API to do their dirty work, these smaller moves amount to little more than green washing.”
And U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.):
“Coyly dumping fringe groups doesn’t help…. If BP wants meaningful climate legislation, it will tell the U.S. Chamber and API: support real climate action pronto or we quit. They’re the 800-pound gorillas obstructing things BP claims to support, like carbon pricing and methane regulation.”
The involved trade associations were not buying BP’s PR stunt either. Reported Cama:
Kathleen Sgamma, president of WEA, called the announcement “virtue signaling” because BP was likely on the way out the door anyway for unrelated reasons.
“We knew BP was going to pull its membership because it has divested of all its assets in the Rockies,” she told E&E News. “But they needed to put out a report to placate activist investors, and it was easy to put Western Energy Alliance in there,” Sgamma said. “They were getting out of the West anyway, and they needed somebody at the top of their pyramid in their glossy report.”
A lobbyist for one member of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) added:
“The move is certainly welcomed by a lot of the large independents. The independent view is that [BP is] moving out of the refining business and want to use their membership to the detriment of American refining….”
“A lot of these larger companies are happy to advocate for large, costly regulations that they can pay for and others can’t.”
“Today’s report is a small but important step towards rebuilding trust in BP,” stated CEO Looney. Trust? Was that lost with Deepwater Horizon, itself the result, in part, from a culture that put climate imaging ahead of core safety? The new head of BP has it exactly backward.
Rent-seeking dressed in greenwashing–who is BP trying to fool?
“We don’t have all the answers at BP,” Looney ended his letter fronting the trade group report.
We know that we have much to learn from others and we will only make progress through honest and constructive dialogue. My hope is that in the coming years we can add climate to the long list of areas where we as an industry work together for a greater good.
Climate and the common good? This requires open, honest debate about the science of climate alarm; public-policy choices concerning CO2, methane, and other greenhouse gases; and the relative utility of fossil fuels relative to dilute, intermittent substitutes.
That is a debate that BP does not want to have–to the detriment of customers, taxpayers, and the voting public. One can only hope that, in a post-COVID 19 world, imaging and greenwashing give way to realism.